Midtown Raleigh News

No massive reassignments ahead, Wake school board chairman says

and T. Keung Hui

Most students will be allowed to remain in the school where they started even under changes that are expected to be made to the assignment plan, Wake County school board Chairman Kevin Hill said Friday.

In a meeting with News & Observer editors and reporters, Hill said he doesn’t foresee “massive reassignment” if the plan is revised in the 2013-14 school year to give families an address-based assignment and to consider diversity as part of the process. Wake is looking at including a “stay where you start” policy that says that even if an area is reassigned to a different school, existing students would be able to stay at the original school.

“It will be their decision should they change school next year,” Hill said. “Parents have gone through a tremendous amount of agony and homework. And I believe there are a lot of parents that still don’t understand the system.”

The choice-based system passed by the school board in October is just taking effect for year-round students next month. Against opposition from the school board’s four Republicans, the Democratic majority, which was elected last fall, voted recently to ask Superintendent Tony Tata to combine elements of the two most recent plans to take into account diversity and to assign a specific school to every address.

“I think what the community needs to understand is that the choice plan had some very good points to it, and the plan that preceded it had some very good points to it,” Hill said. “I do believe that we need to keep an eye on diversity. I think it’s important that our students are exposed to the diversity of our community.”

Details of the new student assignment plan are still being developed. It’s supposed to be based on the principles of student achievement, stability and proximity. Student achievement involves balancing schools by academic performance and socioeconomics.

Hill said he’s expecting staff to present a plan in September.

Growth and budget

Despite all the attention given to assignment, the system’s population growth and budget are more important issues, Hill said. Yet the issues are linked because the expected growth of the system to 200,000 students will require more schools and a means to assign students to them.

“If we’re going to open 20 schools in the next eight years, somebody’s got to go to them,” Hill said. “Our commitment is that every one of those 20 schools is as good as the schools (students) might be asked to leave.”

Hill said the decision to change direction on the student assignment plan came over the past month as board members saw data showing that the new choice plan was causing schools to have higher percentages of low-income and minority students.

“You can’t jump from plan to plan without letting the (choice) plan be implemented,” said school board member Chris Malone, who voted against the proposed changes. “It leads to chaos.”

Board member Debra Goldman also voted against the change in plans. She said the changes in the data simply reflect the choices parents are supposed to make under the plan.

“The people that were against them making choices, and against a neighborhood school plan or whatever you want to call it, are afraid that they were wrong all these years,” Goldman said. “It doesn’t matter where these children are from, what color they are, what culture they’re from – their parents are making the decisions.”

If the choice plan were to result in concentrations in some schools of high-need students, Goldman said, the system should make changes to make sure the students receive equitable treatment.

Frustration in Chamber

The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce has expressed disappointment in the board’s decision to move away from the choice plan. The Chamber had paid education consultant Michael Alves to develop a model that was the forerunner of the board’s choice plan.

Hill said he was a “little frustrated” in the Chamber’s reaction to the vote. But Hill said he hopes that the Chamber and Wake County commissioners will take the lead in promoting a school construction bond measure that could go on the ballot in spring or fall 2013.

Harvey Schmitt, president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber, said Friday the group will continue in the role it has held in the past of leading efforts to get bond issues passed. But Schmitt said the board’s recent vote will make it harder to build community support for passing a bond issue because people will still be arguing about assignment.

“If we’re still in the assignment ditch, it’s harder to get out there the need for more financial support,” he said.